Now You See It, Now You Don’t

On October 5, 2014 · 3 Comments

I thought about rivers, specifically those with legs that disappeared for awhile. It wasn’t about completely subterranean rivers, although those were certainly fascinating in their own right, it was about surface rivers with underground components. I knew they existed because I had a hazy recollection about reading something once. How rare were they, I wondered, and where did the occur?

Some quick research uncovered several and there were likely many more. I concluded that they might be unusual enough to raise an eyebrow although not something of exceeding scarcity either. They also seemed to share a common attribute, of being found in geographic areas associated with karst topography. Let’s turn it over to the International Association of Hydrogeologists for a simple explanation:

Karst is a type of landscape, and also an aquifer type. Karst areas consist of solid but chemically soluble rock such as limestone (most important) and dolomite, but also gypsum, anhydrite and several other soluble rocks… Karst landscapes show characteristic landforms caused by chemical dissolution, such as karren (crevices and channels, tens of cm wide), dolines and sinkholes (closed depressions, tens of m in diameter) and poljes (large depressions with flat floor, several km 2 or more). Streams and rivers sinking underground via swallow holes are also frequent. Karst aquifers are characterised by a network of conduits and caves formed by chemical dissolution, allowing for rapid and often turbulent water flow.


Postojna Cave Park
Postojna Cave Park by Michael R Perry, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Karst was a German word originally, and referred to the Karst Plateau along the border of modern Italy and Slovenia. This limestone-rich area was known for its caves. That continued to the present, for example at Postojnska Jama (Postojna Cave) in Slovenia that became a major tourist attraction based on its favorable geological placement (map) within the plateau.

Obviously an area rich with caves, a typical feature of karst topography, offered numerous opportunities for water to disappear from the surface and reappear elsewhere at a lower elevation. Karst areas were widespread and so were the prospects for partially subterranean rivers. I found a few illustrative examples in the United States.


Santa Fe River, Florida


O'Leno State Park: Sante Fe River Sink
O'Leno State Park: Sante Fe River Sink by Phil's 1stPix, on Flickr
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Florida’s Santa Fe River wasn’t huge, stretching only about 75 miles (121 kilometres), however what it lacked in length it made up for in wonder at what happened at O’Leno State Park:

Located along the banks of the scenic Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee River, the park features sinkholes, hardwood hammocks, river swamps, and sandhills. As the river courses through the park, it disappears underground and reemerges over three miles away in the River Rise State Preserve.

I thought it was great that the reemergence had such a completely descriptive name, "River Rise." There, the Santa Fe River reappeared "as a circular pool before resuming its journey to the Suwannee River." The gap was also clearly visible on Google Map’s Satellite View (map).


Lost River, Indiana


Water Dripping
Water Dripping by Cindy Cornett Seigle, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Indiana’s Lost River was another short river, flowing about 87 miles (140 km), while disappearing for as much as 25 miles (40 km) of that distance. The hydrology was different than the Santa Fe River, though. There wasn’t a single sinkhole or rise. Rather, the Lost River began normally enough until flowing onto a karst plateau where it disappeared into numerous distinct sinkholes and circulated through untold individual and interlocking channels before reemerging in at least a couple of different places. Furthermore, the sinkholes couldn’t drain the entire flow during wetter times of the year and the river would return to the surface in places. It followed a Swiss Cheese drainage pattern. This feature of the Hoosier National Forest was rather unusual,

The system can be thought of as a three-dimensional river delta. Depending upon how much water is moving through the system, you could have water in all of the levels. There is no other site in Indiana that matches the Lost River system in terms of the dynamic subterranean hydrology (water movement)… The Lost River is one of the largest sinking streams in the country. The watershed is over 200 square miles.

The Lost River reemerged permanently and primarily at a place known as the True Rise. Previously it was thought to be the Rise at Orangeville (map), pictured above, which was also supposed to be more picturesque. Orangeville was "the clearest illustration of subterranean stream resurgence in the famed Lost River karst area."

I also discovered additional occurrences such as the Mojave River in California and the Little Ocqueoc River in Michigan.


A Most Unexpected Example


Donauversickerung
Donauversickerung by Reisen aus Leidenschaft, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Remarkably, I discovered that the mighty Danube River, the second longest in Europe flowing 1,785 miles (2,872 km) included an underground segment, albeit early in its watercourse while still rather diminutive. The Danube Sinkhole, or Donauversickerung, once again on a karst plateau allowed the Danube to disappear for several miles within Germany before resurfacing at the Aachtopf Spring (map). It was intermittent phenomenon. Much of the time the Danube had sufficient volume to overcome the drainage and continued flowing across the surface in a defined channel as well.

Me and What Army

On September 28, 2014 · 2 Comments

The format today will be similar to the "Odds and Ends" series, a veritable pu pu platter of tasty tidbits. The primary difference will be that inspiration came almost entirely from the far corners of the 12MC army. I still have several other reader contributions waiting in the wings too. Please be patient if you mailed something to 12MC in the last couple of months. I’ll get to everything eventually.

Killer Explanation



Kilkenny Castle. My Own Photo.

I encountered placenames in Ireland with the prefix "Kil-" nearly everywhere during my recent overseas adventure. These included the towns of Kilkenny and Killarney plus the County of Kildare. The prefix occurred too frequently to happen by random chance, I figured.

Some quick research solved the mystery. In Irish Gaelic the prefix meant "Church." The same was true apparently for Scottish Gaelic and originally spelled Cill. For example a surname like Kilpatrick might translate as something like the Church of St. Patrick.

It reminded me of the suffix -kill one sees sporadically in eastern areas of the United States originally settled by the Dutch, including parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Examples would include the Schuylkill River that flows through Philadelphia as well as everyone’s favorite, the seemingly redundant (although actually not) Murderkill River of Delaware. Kill in this context meant a creek or a riverbed.

Funny how the same basic word could have such drastically different meanings in English, Irish and Dutch.


A Long Way to Go


Sunset over Mooselookmeguntic Lake
Sunset over Mooselookmeguntic Lake by Rob Albright, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Reader Joe wondered about the longest town name in the United States. He came across an article that suggested Bellefontaine Neighbors (map), a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. It claimed to have "the longest name of any incorporated place in the United States" at 22 letters.

The situation became much more complicated as I explored it. Essentially the title came down to what set of qualifiers one wanted to use. Bellefontaine Neighbors settled on "incorporated place" to stake its claim. I referred to the US Board on Geographic Names, which offered Winchester-on-the-Severn, Maryland as the longest name with a hyphen (24 characters) and a tie between Mooselookmeguntic, Maine and Kleinfeltersville, Pennsylvania for continuous uninterrupted letters (17 characters) as the longest names for populated places in the United States.

Those of course paled in comparison to Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukakapiki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­kitanatahu, New Zealand (85 characters) and Llanfair­pwllgwyn­gyllgo­gery­chwyrn­drobwll­llanty­silio­gogo­goch, Wales (58 characters).

Bellefontaine was pronounced Bell-fount-in, by the way.


Simpson County Offset



Simpson County Offset

Some readers provided both an observation and an explanation. Such was the case with reader Mike. I’d noticed the "Simpson County Offset" before although I had no idea how it could have originated and never pursued it. The roots went all the way back to colonial times and the border between Virginia and North Carolina, a line that extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean, theoretically. Later that line formed the basis of the border between Tennessee and Kentucky, and it wasn’t completely straight because of various surveying errors.

A series of corrections had to be made including within a section separating Simpson County, Kentucky from Sumner County, Tennessee. One particularly cantankerous farmer refused to believe his land could ever be in Kentucky.

By 1830 it became obvious that the line was in the wrong place, which is why surveyors were sent to the area to redraw the line. Those surveyors determined about where the boundary line was supposed to be but wisely recommended in their report that the official border be left where it was… However, this didn’t settle the matter. A generation after this survey, … a settler named Middleton continued to claim that 101 acres of his property that protruded into Kentucky was rightfully in Tennessee. Two surveyors sent to the area to settle the dispute in 1859 agreed with him.

Now we know.


Water for Water


view towards downtown Denver from Cherry Creek Dam road
view towards downtown Denver from Cherry Creek Dam road by Scorpions and Centaurs, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Reader Ken lives near Denver, Colorado and it dawned on him that Cherry Creek Reservoir (map) was an example of a body of water named for a smaller body of water. He wondered if this was unique, or at least unusual.

I discovered a number of similar instances in the Geographic Names Information System. It might be interesting to determine the largest water feature named for a smaller water feature. Nothing came to mind off the top of my head. Maybe the 12MC audience has some suggestions.


Parting of the Waters


Two Ocean Pass USGS Topo
By United States Geological Survey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Richard, who described himself as a "long time reader/lurker" mentioned the Parting of the Waters (map). This was very interesting. Deep in the Bridger-Teton National Forest of Wyoming, "North Two Ocean Creek flows down from a plateau, slams into the Continental Divide in the form of the summit ridge of Two Ocean Pass and then splits into two: the aptly named Atlantic Creek and Pacific Creek." At that spot, water flowing down from Two Ocean Creek stood about an equal chance of ending up either in the Atlantic watershed or Pacific watershed.

It got me to ponder how a seemingly innocuous twist of fate could produce vastly different outcomes.

Highpoints of Central America

On September 7, 2014 · 3 Comments

Today begins an effort to try to increase pushpins on the 12MC Complete Index Map for nations underrepresented by previous articles. This came from a realization that I’d continued to overlook certain parts of the world even after hundreds of posts. I’ll try to make it an occasional, relevant and unobtrusive effort, as with the following topic du jour.

It surprised me to learn how little information existed on the Intertubes about the highest points of elevation in each of the countries of Central America, beyond their simple names and locations. That wasn’t only English-language content either. I found little Spanish coverage as well. In fact, the highpoints of individual U.S. states seemed to receive better treatment from the digital masses than international highpoints of Central America. Mountain climbing sites such as Summitpost.org offered the most detailed accounts, albeit with not much even there.

I began by compiled the highpoint peaks onto a single map.



View Highpoints for Central American Nations in a larger map

I dug a little deeper, examining each of the seven Central American national highpoints from highest altitude to lowest. Oddly enough, the two lowest highpoints might actually be the most difficult to summit.


Guatemala: Volcán Tajumulco 4,220 metres (13,845 feet)



The highest point of Central America sat atop a Guatemalan stratovolcano, Volcán Tajumulco. While it’s possible for climbers to reach the mountaintop using their own resources and efforts, many people sign-on with one of several local guide groups that specialize in this activity. The trip took most people at least two days. One guide explained,

Conquering Tajumulco is no walk in the park. At the uppermost reaches of the volcano, the air is thin, the temperature plummets and the effects of altitude are likely to cause hikers some degree of discomfort.

The climb wasn’t supposed to be super-technical. The altitude seemed to be a primary issue.


Costa Rica: Cerro Chirripó 3,820 m (12,533 ft)


Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica
Mount Chirripo, Costa Rica by Monty VanderBilt, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

Many of the tallest Central American mountains traced to a recent volcanic origin. Cerro Chirripó, the centerpiece of Chirripó National Park did not. Rather, Chirripó belonged to the Sierra de Talamanca, the intrusive eroded core of a long dormant volcanic range subsequently uplifted.

Vegetation and climate changed with elevation as one would expect: "The mountains in this area are covered in thick primary cloud and rainforest to about 9,000′ elevation. From there, the Paramo, or wet desert is the primary ground cover." Sources claimed that the lowest temperature ever recorded in Central America happened here, -9°C (16°F), although I couldn’t find a primary source to corroborate it.

Many climbers took the mountain in two stages. They checked-in and receive a permit at a ranger station, stopped at Base Crestones and then made the final push to the summit.


Panamá: Volcán Barú 3,475 m (11,401 ft)


technologically advanced summit
technologically advanced summit by steve hanna, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

What better location to place an array of antennae and broadcast towers than the highest point in Panamá? Obviously the people who constructed these installations didn’t drag all of that material up the slope by hand. They drove. A steep, muddy, rutted road climbed to the summit, and provided a primary route for hikers as well. Once atop, on a clear morning visitors reported that it was possible to see both the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) and the Pacific Ocean from the same spot. That would be a very rare and precious sight, indeed.


Honduras: Cerro Celaque – Las Minas 2,870 m (9,416 ft)


Cerro Celaque, Honduras
Cerro Celaque, Honduras by Joe Townsend, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Honduras didn’t focus much attention on its national highpoint although it did establish Celaque National Park in 1987 to create a protective reserve. The mountainous terrain could be best described as a "cloud forest" with increasing amounts of rainfall as one ascended. That water had to flow somewhere, and the slopes of Cerro Celaque provided headwaters to several local rivers. Honduras.com explained that Celaque derived from the local Lenca language, meaning "box of water."

…it provides water to all of the communities that are around the national park, including the cities of Gracias, Erandique, San Juan, San Manuel Colohete and La Campa in Lempira, Belen Gualcho in Ocotepeque, Corquin, Cucuyagua and San Pedro de Copan in Copan, among many others.


El Salvador: Cerro El Pital 2,730 m (8,957 ft)



Cerro El Pital might be the most visited Central American national highpoint. Interestingly, the summit itself was in neighboring Honduras so the highest point of El Salvador wasn’t even the highest point of the mountain. A road, the Ruta El Pital, provided convenient access and made the park very attractive to visitors. The easiest highpoint hiking option involved a 3-minute walk from the camping area. One account described the situation:

The views were nice, but I was not expecting to share the road with so many cars. The road is not just a hiking trail, but an actual road. There was not a steady stream of cars, but enough to be a bit annoying… HUGE!!!! camping area with hundreds of tents every weekends. A lot of people, dogs searching your tents and many STUPID people with fancy cars with super-sounds system to annoying everybody.

It didn’t seem contemplative or relaxing. However, if someone ever wanted a quick dash-and-grab highpoint in Central America, this would be the place to do it.


Nicaragua: Mogotón 2,107 m (6,913 ft)


Ocotal (pico mogoton), Nicaragua
Ocotal (pico mogoton), Nicaragua by cam landrix, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Not much more than two thousand metres high and yet Mogotón might not be an optimal choice even though Reserva Nacional Cordillera Dipilto y Jalapa was created to protect it. The situation traced back to recent history from a generation ago. Sandinista forces placed numerous explosive mines throughout the area during the Nicaraguan Revolution of the 1980’s. Many of those mines continue to lay buried and forgotten, just waiting for an unwary hiker to step in the wrong spot. Compounding that, jungle covered Mogotón and made it difficult to discern clear trails to the summit. It wouldn’t be advisable to approach the Nicaragua highpoint without a local guide.


Belize: Doyle’s Delight 1,124 m (3,688 ft)



While barely a bump compared to other Central American highpoints, I enjoyed learning about Doyle’s Delight the most. First, it wasn’t identified and named until 1989. Second, nobody climbed it until 2008. From Summitpost.org,

Doyle’s Delight was named for its resemblance to the prehistoric setting of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel "The Lost World." Towering palms and strangler figs, their trunks wrapped in a green shag of ferns and mosses, rise and converge in a leafy canopy that keeps the moist forest floor in perpetual dusk. The ridge is so remote that the British Army’s jungle training unit, scientist and other researcher with multinational expedition drop most of the expedition members in by helicopter.

Go ahead and watch a few frames of the video shot during that initial expedition. Notice the spiked and poisonous trees, the venomous snakes, the hardships of the hike, and the determination of the climbers. It was hard to believe that even today remote corners continued to remain unexplored.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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